Much has changed in the fourteen months since the launch of ChatGPT put artificial intelligence on everyone’s radar. Never has a technology seen such rapid adoption and been heralded as a force that will impact every area of business. Dire forecasts compare the impact on employees with that of the Industrial Revolution, albeit at a faster pace and without a clear path to continued employment in other roles.
With this in mind, it’s time for companies to appoint an executive in charge of AI.
There was plenty of work going on in the AI space before ChatGPT’s launch. Machine learning was, and still is, being used to train AI systems in fields like financial risk management and medical diagnosis. It was generative AI and large language models, though, that caused massive excitement and brisk adoption and experimentation.
Suddenly, computers could carry on conversations in a very human-like way. A short prompt could generate art and photography to order. Realistic avatars could speak any text in your voice, even in other languages.
When AI can not only pass but excel on exams that trained humans struggle with, it’s easy to see why dramatic changes to the way we do business are coming. It’s hard to imagine any function in an organization that won’t be affected by the rapid evolution of AI.
Individual AI initiatives are almost certainly happening organically in specific functions, but there’s a need for a unifying AI vision for the entire organization.
The CAIO Is Already Here
One organization that has created this position is the renowned Mayo Clinic. The New York Times quotes Mayo CEO Richard Gray saying, “We’re really trying to foster some of these data and A.I. capabilities throughout every department, every division, every work group.”
Another CAIO described in the article is Mark Daley of Western University in Ontario. Daley is a computer science professor and previously served as the school’s chief information officer. Since assuming the AI role in October, he’s now working on over 30 pilot A.I. projects in both academic and administrative areas.
Even some federal agencies, not usually seen as hotbeds of innovation, are required to appoint a CAIO. It appears that in some cases the appointees hold the specific CAIO title while in others it falls under their responsibility as Chief Technology Officer or other role.
Are CAIO Roles Common?
The CAIO is still an uncommon position. A search of job site Indeed showed zero exact matches in the U.S. for “Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer.” But, there were hundreds of close matches, often other C-level positions (like Chief Technology Officer or Chief Experience Officer) that include AI prominently in their job description.
Even if it’s a rarity now, roles like CAIO and other titles dedicated to artificial intelligence will become more common in the coming years. AI is changing so quickly and has the potential to affect so many areas that responsibility for it can’t be tacked on as an afterthought to an already busy executive.
Shareholders Expect A Coherent AI Strategy
It’s clear that investors expect companies to articulate their AI strategy, particularly when AI is part of their core business. Writer Martin Baccardax of TheStreet.com thinks Apple shares have suffered in comparison to the other “Magnificent Seven” tech giants because they seem to lack a compelling AI strategy.
At a time when every company is tossing out AI buzzwords, a CAIO is one way to ensure that stated initiatives go beyond AI-washing and have real substance.
Why Do You Need A CAIO?
The key advantage of a dedicated AI executive is that an individual with a combined knowledge of AI’s potential and understanding of the organization’s overall goals and strategy can drive experimentation and implementation. That will yield better results than siloed initiatives and fragmented AI strategies.
The ethics of AI use, compliance with future regulations, and management of risk are all reasons to have a dedicated individual and team focused on the area. AI has been a bit of a “Wild West” situation to date – some tools have been accused of violating the intellectual property of authors and news organizations, and many caution users not to upload their own proprietary data. The landscape is complex.
Whether the role needs to be a C-level position as opposed to an executive position under a CTO, for example, is more open to question. This decision depends on how central AI is to the company’s overall strategy.
Is the goal to develop an AI-centric culture? Will AI reshape the company’s core business? Then a CAIO role is justified.
If AI will be a tool to, say, increase efficiency in specific functions or create marketing content, there’s less need for a C-level role.
Regardless of the exact title, though, a dedicated role is essential. If AI is everyone’s responsibility, AI is no one’s responsibility.
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